Land Ho! // A Classic Seaside Residence at Historic Port Madison

By Alli Schuchman

Falling head over heels with Bainbridge happened to George and Nancy Lobisser the same way it does for a lot of us—a day trip from Seattle that turned into never wanting to leave.

Moved by its natural beauty and the rocky shores of the Puget Sound and impressed by the good schools and small-town charm, the couple moved to the island in 1979, first living in a home on Sunrise Drive just south of Fay Bainbridge Park.

It was nearly a decade later in the late 1980s while boating around Port Madison that the Lobissers first laid eyes on their current property. Although there was no home on the land at the time, the dock already existed, which piqued their interest. Subsequent sleuthing led them to its owner, who sold them the low-bank historic property before moving out of state.

For the Lobissers, designing a home for their newfound land interestingly began in the same way they first discovered it—by boat. “We just started by ‘being’ with the property, seeing it at all times of day,” said Nancy. “We spent several days camped out on the water and really paid attention to the light and the sounds. It got us envisioning what we ultimately hoped the home could be.”

Though their children, Mallory and Kyle, were just 3 and 5 when the young family planned and built the home in 1991, the couple was intent on creating a “for keeps” space. They wanted a house that would continue to be relevant across the decades, not just for the time when they were raising small children.

Twenty-five years later, the kids long since grown and moved away, the traditional, multilevel home still feels like the right fit for the couple. “It had to function equally well for entertaining and for family time alike,” said Nancy, a balance that was conceived and struck in cooperation with renowned Pacific Northwest architect Steven Sullivan, along with his then associate, Marvin Anderson, who still today works with the couple on architecture projects.

“He helped us create a home that we will never tire of,” she said. In an initial meeting, Sullivan asked the couple to list all the rooms they wanted and what size they wanted each to be—an exercise that led the Lobissers to build a bigger home than they initially planned. “Although we found it a rather odd request for an architect to ask his clients,” Nancy recalled, “in the end, it was a smart way to begin planning and helped us realize what we actually wanted. It was a great tactic.”

After the plans were drawn, the couple chose third-generation craftsman Andy Mueller to build the East Coast-style home with thick, bold woodwork, stone masonry, and an unmistakably classic heft.

At the home’s northernmost end is one of its more refined spaces, a sunken formal living room that soars two stories. A marble fireplace is at its center, flanked by glass doors leading to a covered patio. Modern artwork by local artist Greg Robinson (currently the executive director and curator for the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art) lends color and dimension to the space’s sophisticated, eclectic feel. From the upper-level office, a Juliet balcony overlooks the room that connects to both the dining area and the foyer.

The Lobissers find the home’s more casual areas a warm and welcoming offset. “We spend virtually all of our time right here,” Nancy confessed, describing her favorite space in the home—the informal combination eat-in kitchen, breakfast nook and family room at the home’s south end. A Canadian Fraser River stone fireplace anchors the space.

Upstairs, a private master bedroom, three additional bedrooms, an office and a gym are reached by either of two staircases, one on either end of the home. The design detail allows the home to live equally well—big or small, open and connected or cordoned off—
whatever the occasion, something the Lobissers envisioned for its functionality.

Outside, a fireplace and stone, dome-shaped pizza oven (where George is regularly found cooking his gourmet pies) multiplies the living space. The mild climate plus generous covered and uncovered spaces allow for lots of al fresco dining, another of the Lobissers’ “musts” for the home.

Even though the house is by every measure lovely, unsurprisingly, it’s the waterfront location that truly steals the show. Wall-to-wall windows and glass doors run the length of the western face, looking onto a custom-laid blue stone patio, plantings and sea grasses, as well as native wetlands. Beyond is the dock, where more often than not, a bald eagle can be seen perched and fishing.

Named to honor President James Madison, Port Madison looks and operates far differently today than it did at its height in 1855 when it was one of the Pacific Northwest’s three principal ports. Long gone are the fish processing plant, iron and brass foundry, as is the mill (which at its top production processed some 40,000 feet of timber per day!), where the Lobisser home sits today.

Historic records compiled and written about in W.B. Bowden’s Port Madison: 1854 show that on July 13, 1856, Charles C. Terry and Mary J. Russell tied the knot, marking the port’s first documented wedding. Apparently its nuptial charm hasn’t faded even 156 years later—the Lobissers’ son, Kyle, and his bride, Kristen, held their wedding reception here in July last year, with lapping waves and seabirds serving as the backdrop.

The newlyweds were married in Seattle and chartered an Argosy cruise that after the ceremony delivered their 250 guests directly to the family’s dock. Catered by food trucks serving up pizza and tacos, the casual party filled the home’s backyard, revelers playing lawn games like ladder golf and cornhole.

“From the beginning, we planned our wedding around our guests,” said Kyle, who spoke about wanting to share the mountain views and salty waters with friends and family who came from across the country for the celebration. “We wanted them to experience the epitome of a Northwest summer day, cramming as many activities as possible into 15 hours of daylight and even into the night.”

“It’s fun to look out on the wetlands now and see the ghost of the big white tent, covering the same area on which I used to play catch with my dad and where we’d build forts out of driftwood and pallets,” Kyle said. “Celebrating our marriage at home on Bainbridge Island made everyone feel like kids again.”

A lot of life has happened on the storied stretch of land, but for Nancy and George, today still feels like happily ever after. “We often walk the trails to the Port Madison Cemetery where George’s parents are buried,” Nancy said. “And nothing compares for us to the rowing shells, the birds, and the squeals of laughter from the children learning to sail back and forth across the waters.”

At the quarter century mark, it certainly looks like the Lobissers got exactly what they wanted. A forever home.